Sunday, April 29, 2012

When To Ask for Help?

I've always thought that people need to feel good about themselves and I see my role as offering support to them, to provide some light along the way.” ~ Diana, Princess of Wales 

Running a business is very difficult, and entrepreneurs face a wide range of challenges, from personnel to marketing and everything in between. It is impossible for any one person to know everything there is about running a business, but making decisions without all the relevant information will put your business in jeopardy. 

Since no entrepreneur really has all the answers, asking for help is the key to ensuring your business’ success. This is particularly so in the area of technology where changes occur so quickly. 

There are many people out there who are ready and willing to offer their assistance, but you must be willing to ask for it, which can be a difficult thing to do. Many think that asking for help shows weakness, but I say it is the exact opposite. It is a sign of strength, because it takes courage to do so. 

The most successful businesses are the ones that are constantly reaching out for help from those with more experience and expertise. Many entrepreneurs work with as many as five or six mentors to ensure they have access to as much advice as possible. 

Entrepreneurs who are not asking for help on a regular basis inevitably do when their business is failing. Trouble is, often by this time, their cash flow has dwindled and their debt has multiplied to the point that the damage is irreparable. In many of these cases, the business is beyond any hope of recovery. 

The last few years have been tough on the construction industry, and it has been a struggle for these businesses to stay afloat. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen them make is waiting too long to ask for help. 

Many of these businesses have reached out to me for help, but it was way too late to bring them back from the brink. Had they called me in early, I could have helped them cut expenses or done any number of things to give them a better chance. By the time they came to me, however, they were so far gone, there was not much that could be done to turn things around. 

When asking for help, there are two key considerations: when you should ask and who you should ask. 

Where “when” is concerned, businesses really should be requesting guidance on a routine basis. With so much to know about running a business, consulting regularly with advisors is the only way to keep your bases covered and ensure a strong business. Obviously, in the event of a problem, this frequency should increase as the severity of the situation grows to give you the best chance of working through it. 

In terms of “who,” you should always seek out qualified people. Ask your banker or lawyer if they have any recommendations, and forgo the friends and relatives route. Friends and relatives may have the best of intentions and sincerely want you to succeed, but they are rarely good business consultants. They will often tell you what they know you want to hear and not what you need to hear. 

Keep in mind that many of the problems businesses face are pretty similar across industry lines, so the advisor you select does not necessarily have to be from your industry. In addition, more often than not, people are willing to share advice free of charge since it is an honor to be asked. 

Now go out and make sure that you have a cadre of advisors available to you. I guarantee you will find that regularly reaching out for guidance will make a significant difference in your business.

You can do this!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Every Business Needs a Succession Plan

"Succession planning is a process whereby an organization ensures that employees are recruited and developed to fill each key role within the company." ~ Susan Heath

Our lives and businesses have all kinds of uncertainty in them. We just do not know what the next moment, day, week, or years are going to bring. However, that being said, it is so critical that we all have a plan in place for all of this uncertainty we live with every second.

So many business owners I deal with just do not have a succession plan for many reasons. Some of his or her reasons are, I just do not have time to make one, I do not know who can run my business if something happens to me, or someone will figure that out once I am gone.

Not having a succession plan is like playing Russian roulette with results potentially being a disaster.

I was helping a wonderful couple that has a building business. They were doing well in construction business in spite of a tough economy and I just could feel the love between the two of them even though they had been married for over 25 years. The husband had the construction license and did all of the work with jobs from the estimating to supervising the work crews. The wife was the office manager including taking care of the accounting.

I was coaching and mentoring them on their business, as they needed to put some controls on expenses and increase their marketing efforts. They always were ready to follow my suggestions so I really enjoyed working with them.

Unfortunately, the husband had a stroke and passed away completely unexpectedly. Needless to say the family was devastated by this loss as one day he was alive and fine and the next day he was dead.

When I met with the wife 6 weeks after this terrible occasion, she told me that her husband had left no will or no succession plan. She needed the business income for her family but she did not have the construction license or the experience to keep the business running. While it was very tough for her, she is studying for a general contractor's license and doing some things to keep the business going but to put it mildly, it has been so difficult for her. In fact, as she was scrambling to keep the business going that she had no time to grieve. When I asked her when she was going to be able to mourn the loss of her husband, she said keeping income coming in and bread on the table for her and her children trumped this. I did strongly encourage her to get some psychological help to insure that she got the proper help.

Clearly, in this case and so many others, if a succession plan were in place, this transition would have been so much better and less disruptive.

Now go out and make sure that you have a written succession plan, and of course a will, in place. While this forces you to think of your demise, for the people left behind having a plan of action is so helpful.

You can do this.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

You Must Have Decision Authority Set For Each Employee.

"A man, as a general rule, owes very little to what he is born with -- a man is what he makes of himself." ~ Alexander Graham Bell

Ensuring staff knows the extent of their decision-making authority is so important for every business, otherwise, chaos can reign. So often, managers assume their staff knows how much authority they have, but this is just not the case.

We were working with the general manager of a manufacturing company who, according to the organizational chart, had more than 80 people reporting to him. In reality, though, he was a manager in title only because he never made any decisions. Every time a decision had to be made, he took it to the owner.

When I asked him why he did not make any decisions, he said, "I have never been given any authority to make decisions." When questioned if he had ever asked about it, he responded, "I just figured they would tell me if I had authority to make decisions. I did not think I would have to ask."

My next conversation was with the owner who told me that the GM had almost unlimited authority with regard to personnel. He added that the only time he withheld authority was when an expense exceeded the budget by $10,000 or more. The owner wanted to have final approval on those decisions.

My next question to the owner was if this had been communicated to the general manager. As I suspected, the owner had never laid it out clearly for the GM because he thought the expectation for a position like that would just be understood.

This lack of communication was having a devastating impact on the business. The staff was not sure who to go to with problems, and the owner was being overwhelmed by the number of people who were coming to him for decisions.

In another example, a manager kept making decisions without regard to the limits of his authority. His supervisors knew he was always pushing the envelope, but again, no one thought to explain his authority to him.

In both of these cases, management's failure to spell out the decision limits for their managers and employees was having a very damaging effect on the business. It was costing them dearly, both in terms of dollars and employee morale.

It is imperative that you make sure each of your employees clearly knows how much authority they have to make decisions about both budget and personnel issues. Then you must ensure they have the information they need to make good decisions.

To illustrate this final point, I once worked for a boss who said, "Jerry, you have authority to spend any amount you need to as long as it is within your budget." That was great, except she never told me what my budget was! As a result, I never felt as if I had any budgetary authority and was very uncomfortable making decisions that impacted the budget.

Now go out and make sure you have clearly articulated authority limits to each of your employees and managers. Next, you need to implement a process that ensures these limits are not breached.

You can do t

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Are You a Micromanager?

"As a manager the important thing is not what happens when you are there, but what happens when you are not there." ~ Ken Blanchard

When I talk to employees about their managers or bosses, the number one complaint I hear is that they micromanage. Micromanaging damages morale and productivity because it belittles staff, making them feel like they are not valued and are not contributing to the organization.

I certainly do not think that anyone goes out of their way to be a micromanager. It is simply a habit the individual developed at one time and now carries forward because it worked once before. But a micromanager will never become a great leader because they do not empower their staff.

What separates a great manager from a micromanager is their ability to facilitate instead of control. A micromanager controls the work being done, whereas a great manager facilitates by supporting and empowering others to excel at the task at hand.

So how do you know if you are a micromanager? There are a few telltale signs. Firstly, do you resist delegating or take back projects before they are complete? Secondly, do you discourage others from making decisions without consulting you? And finally, do you start correcting small details in a project rather than looking at the big picture? If you do any of these things, you might be a micromanager.

Some micromanagers will say they have no choice but to operate this way if they want the work to get done, and when questioned further, most will admit they feel the staff does not have the necessary skills or motivation to do the job. This is the number one reason a person micromanages: they do not trust their employees' abilities and feel they have to step in to ensure the job gets done properly.

Sometimes this might be true. At one point or another, you may find the people you are working with do not have the necessary skills. If that is the case, however, the solution is not to micromanage. It is to replace the employees who are not performing at the level required.
It boils down to a simple question: if you are micromanaging, are your employees the problem or are you? If your employees are capable and you are still micromanaging, the problem is likely you, and you need to change if you want to become a more effective manager.

If you sense you are a micromanager but are not sure how to correct that, talk to your staff. Ask them what changes they would like to see in your management style. Then listen to what they say very carefully. Listening shows that you care about their thoughts and are willing to change.
Generally, your staff will say that you need to delegate more because when they are entrusted with additional responsibility, they feel their contributions really matter.

Letting go and empowering staff takes time and practice. After years of working with countless number of managers, I have found that in most cases, it takes a major incident to jump start the transformation process. Sometimes this catalyst is a crisis of some sort. For example, a manager who is not meeting their objectives fears losing their job. Their motivation is rooted in the knowledge that they must change in order to increase productivity and hold on to their position.

Another way to motivate someone to change their micromanaging ways is to address it in their performance appraisal. Their evaluation should take into account the manager's process, not just the overall output of the department. Managers who micromanage should receive low marks to promote change.

Now go out and find out if you are a micromanager. If you are, make a commitment to change for your sake, as well as for that of your employees and your company.

You can do this.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Emotional Intelligence is so Important for your Managers

"Emotional intelligence, more than any other factor, more than I.Q. or expertise, accounts for 85% to 90% of success at work... I.Q. is a threshold competence. You need it, but it doesn't make you a star. Emotional intelligence can." ~ Warren Bennis

So much of my job is coaching and mentoring the management of both for-profit and not-for-profit businesses. It is really not surprising to me that both types of businesses share a similar set of problems, all rooted in the managers' lack of emotional intelligence, which is an inability to relate to or empathize with staff.

I was brought in by the CEO of a firm to coach one of his managers. The CEO reported having received numerous complaints from the staff about this manager and also said that the department seemed to be less productive than it could be.

In these situations, I typically use a variety of assessments, some meant to help determine the manager's strengths and some to test their emotional intelligence. Additionally, I survey the manager's colleagues and staff to get an idea of their effectiveness as a leader.

In this case, it became very obvious early on that the manager was not relating to his staff very well. When I asked the staff whether the manager was sensitive to their challenges, I got responses like, "Are you kidding me? He is the worst manager ever," or "He is an emotional iceberg."

Given these accounts, my task was clear. The bottom line here was that the manager was completely cut off from his own emotions, and I knew if we were going to teach him how to have empathy for his staff, he first needed to learn how to have empathy for himself.

After several long coaching sessions, I discovered that he had a difficult upbringing and had learned at a young age to stuff his emotions in order to survive. Expressing emotions just was not tolerated in his family. I now understood his behavior, but the fact of the matter was if he was going to be a better manager, he was just going to have to learn to allow himself to feel and have empathy.

Because he knew his lack of emotions was having a negative impact on many areas of his life, he was very willing to work with me. I told him early on that this would not be a quick fix. I warned him the process would require much work but assured him I thought we could make him a better manager.

The first step was to teach him how to feel emotions, so I started by helping him understand where in the body most people register their feelings. Once I was able to get him to start feeling, we moved on to phase two, which had him recording whatever he was feeling every 15 minutes - in essence, forcing him to continually take stock of his emotions.

The purpose of this exercise was to increase his emotional awareness and improve his sensitivity to his feelings.

What was really neat about this transformation was that while I was working with the manager, his staff - even his CEO - started to notice changes in him as well. They all seemed to agree that he was becoming much more pleasant to be around.

I continue to work with this manager, and he still has a long way to go, but he has made substantial progress.

Now go out and make sure that you and your managers are relating well to your staff. If either of you are not, it could be that you need some training on improving your emotional intelligence. There are a number of very good books out there on this topic.

You can do this.